Animals, People, & the Earth

The Cat’s Meow

For this next installment in National Cat Lovers’ Month, we want to talk about cat communication. Did you know that adult cats meow only to humans? According to the experts at the ASPCA, kittens meow to their mothers, but older cats do not meow to each other. Adult cats will yowl to other cats, typically when looking for a mate, but the meowing seems to be reserved solely for people. So, what is the purpose of the human-focused meow? And how did cats develop this interesting skill?

A cat’s primary means of communication with people is the meow. As we aren’t very adept at reading their body language or perceiving their scents and what they mean, they need to vocalize to get our attention and let us know when they need something (petmd.com). Cats will meow for different reasons and it is important to your relationship with your cat that you try to understand what the different meows mean so that you can respond appropriately and so that you can know when the meowing is signaling a problem. Typically, cats meow to say hello, tell you they need or want something like food or drink, announce their presence, let you know that they are feeling nervous about something, or to give you a warning that they are unhappy about something(petmd.com).

The Saying Hello Meow

Cats will typically give a short meow when they greet you when you return home after being out or when they happen upon you after being apart from you in the house. Your cat may also use this meow as an answer to you when you talk to her. It is a friendly sound that tells you that your cat is happy to see you, wants to interact, and is feeling content (aspca.org).

The Need or Want Something Meow

Cats will often meow repeatedly to get your attention so that you can give them something they need. They may come to you and meow assertively to alert you or hang out in the area where they can access the thing that they want, such as the kitchen if they want food or the litter box if they want you to change it, and meow over and over again until you respond(petmd.com).

The I Am Announcing My Presence Now Meow

When cats meow to let you know they are around, it is usually a way of testing the waters to make sure that the environment they are entering is safe or that the thing they want to do is a good idea. If they get the encouragement they seek from you, they will proceed (petmd.com).

The Nervous Meow

If your cat is meowing loudly and repeatedly when in a stressful or otherwise uncomfortable situation, she may be trying to tell you that she feels nervous and needs some help or soothing. Some cats will make this meow in new situations, such as having house guests, if they need to take a trip in the carrier and they aren’t used to going in there, or if they aren’t feeling well. You will need to assess what it is that is bothering your cat and act accordingly to soothe her (petmd.com).

The Last Chance Meow

If your cat is in a situation that makes her feel threatened or unhappy and she wants things to change, she may let out a low meow and a growl to let you know that she is about to pounce and she’s giving you a final warning before she does. This may happen if you are trying to put her in the carrier and she doesn’t want to go, if she’s having a disagreement with another cat, or if she is not in the mood to interact and you are trying to play or cuddle, among other reasons (petmd.com). If your cat is letting you know that she is unhappy in this way, it is best to respect her wishes and back off and leave her be.

There are a number of reasons why your cat may be meowing, and it is helpful to know what she is trying to tell you so that you can respond accordingly. Helping to meet her needs will make her trust you and strengthen your relationship. It will also help alert you to any potential medical needs she may have. Excessive meowing that doesn’t stop when you address obvious needs could indicate a sickness that needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian, so keep an ear out for that. Otherwise, just know that your meowing is her way of communicating her needs and affections and cats have developed this vocalization just for us. That means your cat’s meow, just like your cat, is pretty special.

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